Mind your language
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sept. 25 signed a new law on education. The legislation, many months in the making, is supposed to bring the nation’s schools and colleges into line with modern practices. The signing of the law would have gone barely noticed had not two of Ukraine’s neighbors, Hungary and Romania, created an outcry. Both countries claim the new law restricts the teaching of their national languages in Ukraine.
Ukraine previously had a very tolerant policy regarding the language of school education. Public schools in areas densely populated with minorities offered free education in the minority’s language.
But this could not continue. We have seen what can happen when linguistic and ethnic enclaves are created within Ukraine — in the Donbas and in Crimea.
The new education law makes some wise changes: it allows teaching in minority languages in junior school, or for the first three years, but thereafter education must be conducted in Ukrainian, while minority languages can still be taught in individual classes. Moreover, this concerns only public schools. So the complaints of Hungary and Romania are completely groundless. In fact, Ukraine ending state funding for the education of people who refuse to learn the country’s official language — and therefore likely don’t see their future in Ukraine — is logical and long overdue.
One would expect Ukraine’s neighbors and partners to understand how important language policy is for Ukraine today.
In Russia’s war against Ukraine, the language issue has been a weapon more powerful than a Buk missile or salvo of Grad rockets. It was the language issue that was the pretext for the beginning of the Russianinstigated protests in Ukraine’s east in early 2014.
Poor language policy and weak national identity helped fuel the protests. And the war Ukraine has today has taken more than 10,000 lives since 2014. Should Ukraine risk losing more lives and land by supporting language enclaves?
We say: no.